We’ve all done it. Driven to a trailhead, unloaded the bike, started getting ready for the ride and then realized that you were missing your helmet. Depending on how far you are from your house determines how big of an inconvenience this is. When you are bikepacking, there are plenty more things to forget. The inconvenience of forgetting your socks might just mean that you don’t get to wear clean socks, forgetting your stove, on the other hand, can mean the trip is over and you are hungry for the rest of it. Depending on how far you are from cell service and your car determines whether this is an inconvenience or a serious situation.
Obviously, the best solution is to just not forget anything and to know what you need.

Let’s start with the latter. To survive, you need three things, food, water, and shelter. Everything that you put in your pack that doesn’t fall under those three categories, is a luxury and you will be fine if you forget it. Let’s go over the basics.

Knowing how much food to take is more of a science than an art. The more trips you go on, the easier it is to sort out the equation because you have more information to base your decisions on. I always recommend taking enough food to cover at least one more meal than you expect to be out. For example, an overnight that I expect to be out for dinner and breakfast, gets an extra lunch thrown in just in case. If things go south, you will be ecstatic to have the food necessary. This also includes any snacks that I would normally eat if I was still riding for one more meal. Again, the best test is your own.

Outside of the actual food, I put the stove and any utensils I need to cook or eat my food in this category. One of the hungriest trips I have done was a trip down to Havasupai. It wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the canyon that I realized I had carried in a broken stove. Ramen noodles don’t taste very good when they are cold and hard.

Three items fall into this category.

  1. The actual water.
  2. Someway to carry said water most commonly a water bottle or hydration reservoir.
  3. A filter to procure more water when what you brought is gone. Or those awful pills.

This category has about as many variations as there are people adventuring. For some, it’s a giant tent because they have to be able to stand up while others will get by with just a bivy and a puffy jacket. Wherever you fall into that spectrum, just make sure you bring it. Shelter also includes your clothing. Being without a rain jacket when it’s dumping buckets and 50 degrees, is not a place you want to be. That jacket is shelter.
One should note, these are the necessities. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring anything else, it just means that without those items your trip will probably end pretty quickly.

Packing it up!
Now that you know what you need to pack, the next trick is making sure that all of those things get into your pack and onto your bike. I use a three-step process to ensure that I don’t forget the TP, or the lighter, or the tent pegs, or the…

First, my gear is stored together based on the three categories defined above. My sleeping bag is next to the tent, the pad is with the pillow, etc. While I might not be able to grab all those items at once, each item I grab is essentially reminding me to grab the other. Any “luxury” items that are maybes on my packing list, are also broken down into these categories and stored accordingly. When I snag my sleeping bag (not a maybe) it is next to my tent (a luxury item for me) and it triggers the question of whether my tent is necessary for this trip or not. I then check the weather, make a judgment call and move on. By having the items centrally located, each one is a trigger for the other.

Second, instead of packing my gear directly into my packs, I lay it out in a grid formation. Once again arranging the items that correlate next to each other. The second to top picture in this post depicts my grid. Once I have gathered everything and have it arranged, I go through my mental checklist of what I need. If I can’t find something I’m missing I move onto the last step, actually packing it.

The third and last step is putting the stuff in the bags and attaching it to the bike. This is the final check I have to ensure it’s all there. I have a specific way I pack my bag. Each bag contains the same things on each trip. By doing this, I have a mental list that is a little smaller than just do I have everything, it’s done I have everything that goes in this bag. I will pick a bag and begin removing items from the grid that go in the bag. These are not arranged by use, but by how they pack well on the bike. This creates an independent list of items that should be on my bike.

With these three steps, I’ve been fortunate to have forgotten few things and never anything that was vital to the adventure.

Let us know your tips for packing in the comments below.

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